The School Board gave staff the go-ahead on April 17 to continue planning to start its own police force — something New College and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport do. By doing so, the district hopes to save about $450,000 in the first year, and about $1.5 million in subsequent years over the cost of contracting with local law enforcement agencies to provide security.
On April 3, board members learned of a potential budget deficit of $3.1 million if the county Sheriff’s Office and municipal police forces dropped their commitments to split the cost of campus security officers. The idea of setting up a school district police force came out of that, but the savings still leaves the district with a shortfall it must make up.
To account for the deficit brought on by additional security spending, the district asked school leaders to propose 1% cuts. Many of the suggested cuts took aim at school personnel, such as art teachers or guidance counselors. But, in an effort to maintain the level of service to students, district staff identified costs that weren’t directly tied to education, like reductions in bus driver and custodian positions, and in non-salary benefits for administrators.
Board members directed Superintendent Todd Bowden to go with the targeted reductions amounting to about $1 million, not the full list.
They also instructed him to go back to the local police agencies and ask that they continue their current contracts — which include splitting the cost of school resource officers at every school in the district — for one more year while the district establishes its own security force.
Venice agreed to split costs 50%-50%.
Sarasota agreed to continue paying 20% of the high school and middle school costs, but asked the district to pay the full cost of officers at elementary schools.
The Sheriff’s Office and the city of North Port asked the district to pay the full cost of security.
With that in mind, the school district estimated the costs of school resource officer contracts at $2.5 million and elementary staffing at $2 million, from the district's own force. Combined with the state funding allocated for district security costs, that leaves a deficit of $2.4 million.
If the agencies agree to continue shouldering the past level of funding for school security, the cost of the SRO contracts would stay at $1.5 million and elementary staffing would again be $2 million. That would make the deficit $1.4 million.
By the budget for the 2019-2020 school year, the school district’s own force would be operating at all county schools.